How it all started (Last uodated – 2010)
The state of the nation prior to 1998 could well be described as near comatose. The human rights record of the military administration was appalling. The nation’s economy was on a steady slide to a disastrous perdition. There was near hopelessness and uncertainty. In the political terrain, the nation was served with strange concoctions that would have ultimately led to national suicide.
In the international arena, Nigeria which once stood tall as the giant of Africa was reduced to an inconsequential midget with the suffocating tag of a pariah nation tightening round her neck. Hitherto brave men and women became cowards overnight, groveling at the throne of the one who had wished to become the absolute emperor of Nigeria.
For each passing day, the light of hope dimmed in Nigeria. The height of despair was achieved when the five registered political parties aptly described by the late Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige as the “five fingers of a leprous hand” strangely adopted a serving soldier and the incumbent Head of State, General Sani Abacha, as their presidential candidate.
The Conventions of the ‘parties’, which were supervised by the goons of the regime were sad symptoms of a decadent nation on the brink of disintegration.
The regime capped up this comical idea with an unprecedented show of self-amusement in a forum of waste tagged “One Million Men March” where politicians, respected ones at that, professed to the whole world on national television that no other human being in a country of over 100 million people was qualified to rule the country. What a calamity. What a damming verdict on a population known for its industry, resilience and ingenuity!
This was the state of affairs in 1998. The nation was passing through a phase described by some analysts as “the dark ages”. At a point, it seemed no one could stand in the way of this rampaging dictator who was bent on entrenching himself in the country.
While this sordid state of affairs was holding sway, a group of politicians under the auspices of the All Politicians Summit convened a meeting in 1997 to discuss the way out of what was fast becoming a festering dictatorship. That meeting, led by Dr. Alex Ekwueme was brutally dispersed by the security apparati of the Sani Abacha’s regime.
Dr. Ekwueme undeterred by the brutish antics of the regime continued rallying key political figures of different ideological persuasions under a new platform called Institute of civil society.
From G-34 – to the PDP
In the midst of all this confusion, a group of political leaders, eighteen of them in the first instance and later thirty-four decided to “dare the lion in his den”. This group known as the G-34 later formed the nucleus and rallying point of the associations that formed what is today, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
What were the ideas behind this coalition to save democracy? Alhaji Muhammed Abubakar Rimi, Second Republic Governor of Kano State and convener of the Peoples Democratic Party, traces the idea of the formation of the Party to the quest to unite civil society against military rule. According to him, “the politics of Nigeria before now was built on ethnicity, regionalism, sectionalism and things like that. It gave us a lot of problems over the years. So we decided that we are going to form a party that is so big and so popular that everybody will join”. The prevailing gloom at the time coupled with the treachery of a section of the political class required a form of awakening and the political re-engineering which the G-34 willingly provided.
In February 1998, a Group of eighteen politicians wrote to General Sani Abacha stating their opposition to his planned transmutation from a military ruler to a civilian president. The group advised Gen. Sani Abacha to resign and seek nomination on the platform of any of the political parties of his choice if he wanted to continue as president. The attempt to muscle the five existing parties to adopt him was unacceptable to the G-18.
In March of the same year, the group expanded to thirty-four members who again wrote to the Head of State, reiterating the earlier position of the G-18. The G-34 was now led by Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President and convener of the Institute of Civil Society.
In the heat of the struggle against dictatorship and at a time the ignoble desire of self perpetuation was gathering a disturbing momentum, General Abacha mysteriously died on June 8, 1998.
His successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, on assumption of office initiated wide consultations with several political groups. The consultations by the regime brought to the fore the unmistakable resolve of Nigerians for an immediate return to civil democratic rule. General Abacha’s death provided the soothing relief to the battered psyche of the people of Nigeria.
Bowing to the wishes of Nigerians, General Abubakar unveiled an eleven-month transition programme, which would later terminate on May 29, 1999. The five “political parties”, namely, the UNCP, CNC, NCPN, DPN and GDM were dissolved. Nigerians were now free to form genuine political parties to compete for political space without the suffocating tailoring by agents of the state.
The G-34, which was now established as an embodiment of the hope and democratic aspirations of Nigerians having demonstrated courage when it was convenient to show docile acquiescence became the rallying point of a blossoming trans-ideological movement willing to offer leadership to Nigerians.
According to Chief Solomon Lar, the first elected chairman of PDP, the G-34 captured the excitement of Nigerians “because of the quality and integrity of its members”. To him, Nigerians, were no longer willing to gamble away their future to fortune seekers who dominated the failed politics of the Abacha era. As a consequence of sustaining the momentum of democratic struggle, the G-34 attracted several political associations that shared the vision of a truly formidable national political platform.
On August 19, 1998, several political associations including the All Nigerian Congress (ANC), Peoples Consultative Forum (PCF), Social Political Party (SPP) Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), Peoples National Forum (PNF) and twenty-five other associations resolved to form a political party known as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The overriding goal of the new party was to bring together all patriotic and like-minded Nigerians into a single formidable political party capable of organizing and advancing the cause of Nigeria to build a national party that will stand the test of time.
The new party also set out to work together for the speedy restoration of democracy, through the advancement of national reconciliation, economic and social reconstruction, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The Peoples Democratic Party was launched at a colourful ceremony at the International Conference Centre Abuja on August 31, 1998. The Party had Dr. Alex Ekwueme as Chairman of the Steering Committee while Professor Jerry Gana was the Secretary. The PDP applied for registration along with several other political associations using the guidelines released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC.)
Under the guidelines, registration of parties was to be done in phases. First on the basis of national spread and establishment of proper offices in at least twenty-four of the thirty-six states and the FCT. The ultimate test for registration was the performance of the Associations in the Local Government Polls scheduled for December 5, 1998. Under this provision in the INEC guidelines, only a party that scored at least ten percent in at least twenty-four states in the local council election shall qualify for final registration. This was later reduced to five percent to accommodate the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which was a splinter group from the PDP.
The Triumph of PDP
Despite all these stringent criteria, the PDP emerged tops. The INEC verification team observed that the PDP was firmly established in virtually all the wards of the federation. In the Local Government Polls, the PDP won 471 out of the 774 LGAs and won in 28 of the 36 states and the FCT.
Thus, the ground work for the emergence of the PDP as the most popular and largest political party in the history of Nigeria was achieved. The party not only had presence in every locality, it also was ahead of its competitors in the thrust of campaigns.
During the governorship elections which held in January 1999, the PDP won in 21 states, the All Peoples Party (APP) won in 9 states while the Alliance for Democracy (AD) won only 6 states.
In the countdown to democratic rule, the Peoples Democratic Party between the 13th and 14th of February, 1999, in Jos Plateau, State held its Presidential Nomination Convention. The exercise, which produced General Olusegun Obasanjo as PDP flag bearer, was hailed as one of the most transparent and monumental conventions in Nigeria’s political history. So transparent was the event that the co- contestants led by the runner-up and leader of the G-34 Dr. Alex Ekwueme, led the campaign of General Olusegun Obasanjo. Chief Sunday Awoniyi who was the Chairman of the Convention described Dr. Ekwueme as the “hero of democracy” because of his sportsmanly disposition.
While the PDP was prosecuting its campaign as one united entity and winning converts including key opposition figures on its campaign trail, the two other opposition parties were in total disarray. The APP dumped its presidential candidate Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu shortly after his election at the party’s convention in Kaduna. In what could pass as one of the most absurd innovations in Nigerian politics, the APP which could have been described as the senior partner in its alliance with the AD conceded the presidential ticket to Chief Olu Falae of the AD while Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi became the running mate.
The PDP’s candidate Chief Olusegun Obsanjo triumphed in the election. He scored a total votes of 18,738,154 while the AD/APP contraption scored only 11,110,287.
On of May 29, 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was duly sworn in as the second executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. On the 4th of June, 1999, the National Assembly was inaugurated with Senator Evan Enwerem (now late) and Alhaji Ibrahim Salisu Buhari elected as President of Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively.
In response to the yearnings of the party members to democratize its structures, the PDP organized congresses and a national convention towards the end of 1999 to elect officials to run the party. In December 1999, Chief Barnabas Gemade, a one time Secretary of Works and Housing was elected National Chairman while Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo retained his office as National Secretary. During Chief Gemade’s tenure in office, the Peoples Democratic Institute (PDI), the intellectual arm of the PDP was established. The PDP also expanded with branches set up in other countries to enable Nigerians in the Diaspora enjoy membership and active participation in the fast growing Peoples Democratic Party.
Chief Gemade relocated the National Secretariat of the party to the present location at Wadata Plaza, in the Wuse district of Abuja.
In November 2001, the PDP Constitution was amended to provide for a four year tenure for elected executives from the previous two year tenure. At the 2001 Convention, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Second Republic Minister of communications and former Deputy Speaker in the old Benue State House of Assembly, was unanimously elected National Chairman while Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, erstwhile Minister of Economic Affairs, was elected National Secretary.
The Audu Ogbeh led executive was remarkable in managing the crisis between the executive and legislative arms of government. It also energized PDP’s economic policy especially on Agriculture. Chief Audu Ogbeh was appointed the Honourary Adviser to the President on Agriculture. During his tenure, the Chief Ogbeh led National Working Committee made tremendous achievements which led the party to victory in the 2003 general elections. The PDP presidential candidate Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, won his second term with 24,456,140 votes representing 61.94% beaten his closest rival General Mohamadu Buhari of the ANPP who scored only 12,710,022 votes or just 32.19% of total votes cast.
During the Governorship elections, the number of states PDP won rose from 21 to 28 states. The remarkable feat in this election was the party’s victory in five out of the six South Western states which were under the firm grip of the AD.
In the National Assembly, the PDP won 70% of Senatorial seats while the ANPP won 24%. The AD shrunk to 6%. In the House of Representatives, the PDP won 61%.
A party in Transition
In July 2005 Chief Audu Ogbeh with most members of the National Working Committee resigned from office in very controversial circumstances. This signalled the high point of grumblings and misgivings that characterized the PDP at that time. By this time, most founding members of the Party had either abandoned the party or have become key opposition figures against the Party. Most of them cited the overbearing influence of officials of the executive arm of government as the reason for their discontent. While the electoral fortune of the Party was on the ascendancy, its image and public perception suffered serious setbacks.
In July 2005, Senator Dr. Amadu Ali was nominated by the North Central Zone to fill in the vacant position of National Chairman while Chief Ojo Maduekwe, former Transport Minister was nominated by the South East zone to become National Secretary. A new set of National Executive Committee members were later in the year elected. Senator Dr. Amadu Ali, along with his entire Interim Executive were unanimously endorsed for a four year term.
The Senator Amadu Ali led Executive was notable for making the PDP an issue-based and agenda-setting party. Several workshops and seminars were organized during his tenure to intellectually equip the party. The high point of this executive was the review of the PDP manifesto complete with an implementation formula to bring it in line with modern realities. The Ali administration also set in motion the machinery for the building of a befitting National Secretariat.
On the minus side, the re-registration exercise initiated in 2005 was interpreted by some leading party members as a deliberate ploy to weed out “undesirable elements”, in other words, opponents of President Obasanjo. The PDP was therefore no longer a broad base platform where all Nigerians could find expression as envisaged by the founding fathers.
The Constitution amendment exercise embarked upon by the National Assembly was also riddled with controversies that portrayed the party in extreme bad light. Members of the PDP in the National Assembly constituted themselves into a major opposition block against the party during this exercise. At the end of the day, the Constitution amendment proposal failed, to the utter disgrace of the PDP, which adopted an unpopular position. At this stage there was a systemic disconnect between the party and the people.
Things got to an ugly point when the former Vice President of Nigeria, and founding member of the party Alhaji Atiku Abubakar defected to the Action Congress (AC) and became its presidential flag bearer while retaining his position as Vice President.
The Amadu Ali Executive also amended the PDP Constitution in 2006 and allocated executive powers to the chairman of the Board of Trustees. A strange dimension was added to this amendment when leadership of the Board of Trustees was preserved exclusively for former Presidents or National Chairmen who had “distinguished themselves in the service of the party”. This was interpreted as tailoring the Board of Trustees to suit some special interests.
In spite of the bitter divisions within the PDP, all party faithfuls united behind the party’s candidate during the 2007 General Elections. Mallam Umaru Musa Yar’Adua resoundingly won the April 2007 Presidential General Elections. The Party also won 28 Governorship seats. The PDP also won 88 out of the 109 Senate Seats and 266 out of 360 in the House of Representatives. The Governorship position in Anambra State was awarded to APGA by the Supreme Court.
The victory of Mallam Yar’Adua at the poll was premised on his very popular seven-point agenda and his well articulated vision of making Nigeria one of the 20 leading economies in the world by the year 2020. An amiable gentleman, Yar’Adua had led Katsina State as Governor for eight years with unprecedented achievements.
The emergence of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan necessitated an adjustment of the PDP’s Zoning formula to accommodate all geo-political zones in the country. Consequently, even though the Amadu Ali-led National Executive Committee was elected in 2005 for a four year tenure, they could not continue holding office because other zones would have been at a disadvantage.
A New Beginning
On March 8, 2008, a new National Executive Committee headed by Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, a former National Secretary of the PDP and former Minister of Economic Affairs was elected at a convention where all contenders to the office of National Chairman publicly announced their withdrawal for the Prince from Olokoro in Abia State. Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, a seasoned technocrat and former permanent secretary in Kwara State was elected National Secretary.
In his acceptance speech, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor pledged to reconcile all members of the party and ensure the return of those who left due to one frustration or the other. The new Chairman pledged to restore the party to the ideals of the founding fathers. Towards this end, he on assumption of office inaugurated a Committee Headed by the Deputy National Chairman, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed, to review the report of the Dr. Alex Ekwueme led National Reconciliation Committee.
Within a record period of only one month the Dr. Mohammed Committee came up with several recommendations prominent among which is the amendment of the PDP Constitution especially the areas that negate the philosophies of the founding fathers like the leadership, functions and membership of the Board of Trustees.
Very early in the life of the Ogbulafor administration, the PDP suffered setbacks in the election Tribunals and the Appeal Courts. Re-run elections were ordered in Kogi, Sokoto, Bayelsa, Adamawa and Cross River States. The earlier elections were upturned on technical grounds. The Senatorial seats and two Houses of Representative seats in the FCT earlier won by the PDP also suffered the same fate.
In deference to the court judgments, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor led the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and members of the National working Committee to massive campaign rallies that ensured the re-election of all the PDP candidates having resisted pressures to dump PDP candidates in the countdown to the elections.
The determination of Prince Ogbulafor to restore the PDP to the vision of the founding fathers came to fruition between October 23-25, 2008 at a highly successful Stakeholders’ Forum hosted by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio in Uyo, the State capital.
At the lively and well attended event, founding fathers of the party including hitherto estranged ones exchanged friendly banter and relieved fond memories of the all inclusive beginning of the PDP. Participants agreed to close ranks and support the Ogbulafor administration to realize the Olympian dreams of the founding fathers.
Ten years on, we have every reason to ask ourselves how far has the dream of the founding fathers been realized? According to Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, the Party was envisioned not as an ideological party but a broad based all inclusive platform. To that extent, given the enormous size of the party, the dreams of the founding fathers have been realized. The fact that PDP is likely to win any election at any level is also a lofty realization of the dreams of the founding fathers.
THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
Though a lot of water has passed under the bridge, the PDP has passed through series of problems, “at ten, the party is beginning to gain firm footing”, says Senator Tanko Ayuba, who represents Kebbi South in the senate. His views were echoed by Chief Jim Nwobodo, the first Civilian Governor of the old Anambra State who told The Umbrella that without the efforts of the present leadership, the vision of an all inclusive political party, founded and subsisting on undiluted democratic practices would have remained still born. “We seriously derailed especially between 2000 – 2007 when most of the founding fathers were unceremoniously forced out of the party… selfish whims overtook the pursuit of democratic ideals. To that extent, I must tell you, the vision of the founding fathers has just been minimally met.” But there is great hope in what the present leadership is doing, he said, “If they remain steadfast, the vision will be retrieved and this great party rebranded as originally intended.” Barrister Samson Ekhabafe, former National Ex-officio member agrees with Nwobodo. For him, the vision of the founding fathers have not been met absolutely but “there is a cause to celebrate as well as a cause for improvement”. He added that every organization needs reformation and transformation and that is “exactly what Prince Ogbulafor is doing.” The Senate President, David Mark, took the assessment a little deeper, “I think we are making progress. That is not to say that we have achieved all that we want, but at least, we have made progress”. He said the freedom of speech and of association as we know today, the plurality of political parties – the major vehicles of democratic attainment, the periodic conduct of elections are all indices of democratic dividends, an integral of the vision of the founding fathers of PDP. But it was the National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor who added a more concrete pep when he declared, “prior to 1999, Nigeria was a pariah state, today, she is a proud member of the comity of nations. We have laid a foundation for sustainable development and growth … with the seven-point agenda which touches on every sector of the national life; we are bound to rank among the 20 leading economies of the world by 2020.”
However, it is germane at this point to situate the visions of the founding fathers so as to enable us understand how much of these have been realized? Dr. Jonathan Zwingina who served in Sunday Awoniyi led Committee that drafted the founding manifesto of the party, had in an interview with The Umbrella in October 2004 summarized these visions in two broad categories: the first is to build a large coalition of political elements, defying geopolitical, ethnic, and religious barriers, forming such a formidable bulwark against military incursion. While the second is to build a party that would bring democracy dividends to all Nigerians. Everything else, he said, “is a matter of details”. Ten years after, there is no doubt that the first has been fully realized. Though it is not yet Uhuru in respect of the latter, it is incontrovertible that PDP has recorded more than modest gains in the last nine years of the leadership of the nation.
The total commitment to the rule of law by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has reawakened the confidence of our people in the nation’s governance. The government anchored this on the need to sanitize the polity, restore discipline as well as constitutionalism with a view to creating a Nigeria that will be fair, just and where government business is transacted with transparency and due process. On the whole, the rule of law is meant to go with an attitudinal dimension, where every citizen, will with time, internalize this as a way of life. It is in such an atmosphere of law and stability that the creative and entrepreneurial abilities of our people will be maximized. Calm and stability will ensue as a consequence in the manner the nation has witnessed in the last one year without an incident of religious and communal crisis.
Looking closer at the democratic institutions, core among which are the political parties as the building blocks of democracy, the Peoples Democratic Party has proved itself a worthy custodian of Africa’s largest democracy. Though critics often draw comparisons between it and the African National Congress, ANC of South Africa, which has been in existence for a hundred years, the Peoples Democratic Party which is just a decade old has significantly proved it has all it takes to protect, deepen and expand the frontiers of democracy in Nigeria. With the current National Executive Committee of the party led by Prince Ogbulafor, the PDP is restructuring in line with the challenges of our time and in tune with the contemporary commitment of the Federal Government to core values of transparency, accountability and good governance. With openness, discipline and party supremacy as cardinal policies, the leadership has injected fresh blood into the organs and structures of the party while restoring internal democracy in the conduct of its affairs. This friendly atmosphere has enabled peace, reconciliation and the return of former estranged members of the party. The PDP has also put in place a mechanism to monitor the performance of all government officials elected on its platform to bring it in conformity with the vision of the party. Its intellectual arm, the Peoples Democratic Institute (PDI), with a reorganized leadership has been providing training to the party members at the three tiers of government.
Nigeria’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Aminu Wali insists it is a great error to compare the PDP with the ANC as their circumstances and locale are absolutely and totally different. “The ANC started over a century ago as a liberation movement. It has passed through a lot of tribulations, circumstances, experiences through the Apartheid years which moulded it into a cohesive and disciplined body. We have never had any experience close to that. We are only ten years old, so the basis of comparison does not exist. We are still growing.” In any case, on the other hand, Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali, the National Publicity Secretary agues, “while the ANC has a longer history Nigeria’s political experience is more sophisticated compare to South Africa. He pointed out that black South Africans gained adult suffrage only in 1994 while Nigeria has been engage in democratic struggle since the 1920s.
But does the PDP pursue an agenda of stifling the opposition, limiting the democratic space and tilting to one-party rule as some have accused? The Senate President, David Mark opined, “the PDP is against one-party system but will continue to work to make its programmes attractive to the people”. He said it is through multi-partism that elected public office holders will be more sensitive to their mandate and more accountable to the electorates. He however accused the opposition of abandoning their roles. According to him, “when some lose primaries in PDP, they shift to the opposition, hoping that government will invite them. Let the opposition remain an opposition, work hard and if they are steadfast, they will make enough progress one day.” For Aminu Wali, “the opposition should go back to the drawing board, come up with better manifesto that will sell to the people. Once they do this, they will give the PDP a run for their money”, he said. He advised them to put their house in order and not expect the PDP to promote their parties for them. He maintained that the PDP was not denying the opposition the democratic space.
The Chief Servant of Niger state, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu simply asked them to wake from their poverty of ideas, pursue policies and programmes that can challenge that of the PDP.
By now, it is very clear that the country is blessed with a President, who is not obsessed with power, whose sincerity is manifest and whose transparency in office sets an exemplary tone. In President Yar’ Adua, one can also safely say that God has blessed Nigeria with a leader, who not only has a practical mind but also listens. In the words of Jim Nwobodo, “with the party’s leadership under Ogbulafor and the nation’s leadership in the hands of Yar‘Adua, Nigerians have for the first time in so many years, seen an example of humility in topmost service of the nation. Two thorough bred civilians with vision and Nigerians are happier for it.”